Owl John - Owl John
Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson favours folky atmospherics over indie-rock hooks in solo outing
Forget whisky and genealogy website subscriptions. Some would argue that Scotland’s most successful transatlantic export consists of rollicking indie-folk tunes, a few beards and just enough heavily accented curse words to make the Americans blush. Certainly, Frightened Rabbit’s recent history ensures that a new album of solo material by frontman Scott Hutchinson will set young hearts aflutter from Melrose to Minneapolis.
Good news, then, that this doesn’t fall into the dull, vanity-driven category of frontman side-projects, but rather into the interesting chunk that show a band member revelling in a different set-up and flexing some less-used creative muscles. While plenty of Frabbity elements are present and correct – a folky warmth to the guitars permeating through the distortion, a bloody-minded and cathartic bluntness to the lyrics, and of course Hutchinson’s voice itself – there’s far more variety in the sound of this record than in the band’s most recent. Evocative opener ‘Cold Creeps’ is rain-soaked and grim, the more interesting for the fact that almost the first two minutes of it are instrumental.
Owl John is ragged and raw, and less overtly melodic than much of the full-band material, favouring atmosphere and instrumentation over hooks and narrative. Hutchinson has mused in interviews on a possible sunny influence of frequent Californian sojourns on his songwriting, but there’s precious little trace of it here. The sinister themes of ‘Hate Music’, a grizzled, bluesy stomper, are sustained right through to the end, with Hutchinson screaming on penultimate track ‘Don’t Take Off the Gloves’ ‘there’s poison in the tap water’.
While rawness is part of both Owl John and Frightened Rabbit’s appeal, and the relative spontaneity of this record does much to enliven it, if there’s a criticism it’s that it feels a little half-formed, even unfinished in places, as impassioned lyrics tail off and songs end abruptly. Nevertheless, it’s better than many could turn out in much longer, and here’s hoping that the spreading of Owl John’s wings puts a bit of bounce into Frightened Rabbit’s next outing.